Foley teaches Park how to see 'the big picture'
Monday, September 16, 2013
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Annie Park is five years into a seven-year project. That’s how her instructor Sean Foley describes the work the two have done together – a swing overhaul that has taken Park from an adolescent struggling to understand the golf swing to one of the top female amateurs.
The two began working together when Park was 13, and Foley set out to illustrate “the big picture” for her. Park, a USC sophomore from Levittown, N.Y., is reaping the benefits of her understanding and willingness to make changes, Foley said.
“Annie bought into really retooling not just her golf swing,” Foley said, “but her understanding of why a ball flies the way that it flies or an understanding of trying to make a golf swing that wasn’t going to break her body down.”
Park and Foley work together in person four or five times per year. When Park calls Foley, the conversation rarely turns to swing mechanics. With Foley’s help, Park has learned to address the game mentally in addition to what causes her misses and how to fix them.
“Sean isn’t always there,” Park said of that independence.
After completing the postseason sweep in her first semester, Park returns to college golf as the defending NCAA champion and Golfweek’s preseason No. 1 with additional pressure to follow her maiden performance with an equally stellar achievement. “She’s brought a lot of attention to herself,” USC head coach Andrea Gaston said.
Foley has given Park the tools to perform under the spotlight.
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The student: Annie Park
Height: 5 feet, 9 inches
Accomplishments: College player of the year, Pac-12 champion, NCAA West Regional champion, NCAA champion, U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links stroke-play co-medalist, No. 5 World Amateur Golf Ranking
What’s in the bag: Ping G25 driver (8.5 degree); Callaway Razr Fit 3-wood; Ping Anser hybrid (20 degree); Ping Anser irons (4-PW); Ping Gorge Tour wedges (50, 54, 58 degree); STX Pro-fit putter (35 inches); Titleist Pro V1 ball
The teacher: Sean Foley
Other notable students: Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Hunter Mahan, Seung-yul Noh, Jennifer Kirby, Yueer “Cindy” Feng
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Hand position: Hide the right shoulder
Without constant access to Foley, Park sometimes finds she needs to make her own swing fix. That’s best done by asking someone to video her swing so she can diagnose the problem, usually by watching where her hands are at the top of her backswing. Park’s misses are caused by one of two extremes: becoming too upright or laying off the club.
“You shouldn’t see my right shoulder,” Park says of finding the correct position at the top of her swing.
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Smooth transition: Step into the shot
Park sometimes struggles to transition to her left side during her golf swing, so Foley gave her this go-to drill.
Park moves the position of her feet midswing to help get the feeling of compressing the ball into the ground with her irons. The move also puts her in position to square her clubface at impact. Foley said it creates the correct sequence of power for Park’s swing: lead with the legs, followed by hips, torso, arms, then the club.
“It’s creating the sequence of how we’re firing from the ground out,” he said.
For this drill, Park addresses the ball like normal but pulls her left foot into her right foot just before takeaway. As she reaches the halfway point of her backswing, Park moves her left foot back to its normal position as she swings down and through the ball.
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Takeaway: Keep arms and body together
One of the biggest battles for Park is keeping her triangle (formed between her shoulders and grip on the club) together through the swing. When the triangle breaks down, Park tends to swing with her arms, and they can creep into a position that is too high or too low.
Park has a tendency to take her backswing too far outside, which causes the club to get behind or underneath her body and thus heavy in her hands.
Foley will hold a club a few inches in front of Park’s body and tilt it at about a 70-degree angle from the ground. This forces Park to keep her hands inside the club on her takeaway, preventing her from taking the club back on a line that pulls her hands away from her body. She also must bring her hands back down on that plane to avoid hitting the club on the downswing.
“Keeping that club right there, she would have to stay connected in the first 2 or 3 feet of the backswing,” Foley said.
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Feel drill: One-handed chipping
Park likes to start each range session – whether it’s in practice or preparation for competition – the same way. Hitting half shots, or pitch shots, with each of her hands separately helps her find the right tempo.
“The left side of the body and the right side of the body have different responsibilities in the golf swing,” Foley said. This drill is about letting Park’s instincts take over.
Park can do this drill on the practice range (there, she patterns it after the game of bocce – chipping one ball out to 15 or 20 yards, then trying to land each successive shot near that first ball) or on the practice green, where it also helps develop a feel for her short game.
Park generally hits five balls with each hand before using both hands. Then she may switch clubs and start the drill again.
“It starts my day with a bit of a feel,” Park said.
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Putter grip: The ‘Annie Claw’
A little more than a year ago, Matt Lowe, one of Park’s friends and high school rivals on Long Island in New York, urged Park to switch to a claw putting grip. Not long after, Park beat all 133 boys in the field at the 2012 Nassau Boys’ High School Championship, played at Bethpage State Park.
Park laughs that nobody on the college circuit really notices the non-traditional grip, in which three fingers of her right hand are laid on the putter grip. She used the putting style for a few years when she was younger, but she struggled with the transition last year.
“It was kind of hard for me on long putts,” she said. “Hard for me to get the feel.”
But Foley was on board with the change because it helped Park shed a “yippy” tendency.
“With the Annie Claw, it gets her a little bit more where she lets the putter work and lets the putter swing rather than trying to steer it all over the place,” he said.